How Amazon, Jimmy Buffett Are Trending in Active Adult Housing

More and more, active adult housing developers are embracing forward-thinking concepts in order to prepare for the incoming wave of baby boomer residents.

Two companies leading the way are Florida-based Minto Communities USA, which is behind the popular Latitude Margaritaville properties, and Miami-based homebuilder Lennar (NYSE: LEN), which last year announced home designs with integrated automation and voice control powered by Amazon’s Alexa.

And these are just two of the concepts shaking up the age-restricted senior housing product type sometimes referred to as “independent living light.” Active adult housing appears to be experiencing a boom, and well-established senior living developers and operators such as Capitol Seniors Housing and Clearwater Living are getting involved in this product type. The trends in this space point to the preferences and expectations of the aging boomer generation, but active adult will likely undergo many changes in terms of design and services offered over the next decade, according to architects.

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Amazon implementation

Online retail giant Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) recently made a splash in the senior living industry by pitching Amazon Business as a useful purchasing solution at the 2018 Argentum Senior Living Executive Conference in San Diego. And some senior living providers see a great deal of promise in Amazon’s Alexa technology.

Meanwhile. Amazon is forging new relationships with major U.S. homebuilders, including with a division of Shea Homes that builds age-restricted communities in Northern California. Specifically, Shea is installing Amazon Dot speakers into the ceilings of rooms throughout some of its retirement homes, according to digital media site The Information.

Lennar, one of the largest homebuilders in the U.S., is undertaking a similar initiative. Last year, the company announced it was partnering with Amazon on “Wi-Fi certified” home designs that allow users to control their lights, front door locks and thermostat by talking to Amazon Alexa.

“The concept of Wi-Fi Certified Homes, and bringing them to life with Amazon, stretches across all Lennar Homes and products, including active adult,” Danielle Tocco, national vice president for communications at Lennar, told SHN in an email.

A small selection of Lennar model homes dubbed “Amazon Experience Centers” opened to the public in 15 cities across the U.S. earlier this year, and could drive similar trends among other active adult developers and builders in the months and years to come, according to Manny Gonzalez, principal at KTGY Architecture + Planning.

“Gradually, it will become part of the home, because people will get used to having Alexa, or whatever the new device is,” Gonzalez told SHN.

One challenge active adult builders and designers will have to overcome, however, is obsolescence. After all, while Amazon Alexa is the hot technology of today, it might not be tomorrow.

“There was a point in time when everybody thought it was really cool to put an iPod docking station connected to speakers in rooms,” Gonzalez said. “Now, if you see a docking station, you know that place is 10 years old.”

Privacy invasion and physical inactivity are two other possible concerns for potential residents of active adult communities with implemented voice-automated technology, according to David Dillard, principal at D2 Architecture.

“I think there’s a fear factor, and it’s not necessarily unfounded,” Dillard told SHN. “Some of the baby boomers are wary of overusing technology.”

Margaritaville on the move

It wasn’t long ago that many new age-restricted housing communities were anchored by an on-campus golf course and a clubhouse. But that is quickly changing as baby boomers bring their unique preferences to the housing type, according to William Bullock, Minto’s Latitude Margaritaville division president.

Earlier this year, Margaritaville Holdings, Minto Communities and St. Joe (NYSE: JOE) teamed up to pursue the development of a third Latitude Margaritaville active adult community in Bay County, Florida. As planned, that community will come with access to lifestyle amenities such as a resort-style pool, fitness activities, game and hobby rooms, arts and learning programs, live entertainment and Margaritaville-themed food and beverage concepts.

“We listened to our customers before we delivered,” Bullock told SHN. “And we created a package that we believe meets their needs.”

The first two Margaritaville communities are coming together in Daytona Beach, Florida, and Hilton Head, South Carolina, with even more likely to open outside the Southeast U.S., Bullock added. And Minto currently has a list of more than 130,000 people interested in the communities—a sign that the brand is popular among older adults.

But that doesn’t mean the Margaritaville brand will one day have the same wide appeal as other major active adults brands, such as Del Webb.

“I like Margaritaville, I think it’s a cool concept … and it’s done very well,” Gonzalez said. “But their problem is, how far can you spread this? There are many ‘parrotheads’ that will move to Margaritaville, but you can’t do that in every market across the country.”

With that in mind, Margaritaville may have to adapt the design of its existing communities, especially as it seeks to attract second-generation buyers far down the road, he added.

While it’s not clear exactly how active adult communities like Margaritaville will change as they grow in the future, they could implement designs that are more compact, and more accepting of different generations, according to Dillard.

“In the next 10 years, you’ll see a tide turn toward these smaller, tighter, smarter houses in clusters,” he explained. “We’re getting requests from clients to look at tracts of land that have pocket neighborhoods, where the houses are smaller and they are intergenerational.”

For more forward-thinking senior housing trends, be sure to follow the Senior Housing News Architecture & Design Awards website. The submission period for this year’s awards opened on Tuesday, June 11. 

Written by Tim Regan

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